Beaver Dam Phosphorus Mandate Could Lead To Bioplastics Revenue

12/29/17 – A study that is underway in Beaver Dam is exploring several options to build a multi-million-dollar addition to its new treatment plant to better control phosphorus output. The Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Natural Resources are requiring waterfront communities like Beaver Dam to place strict limits on the phosphorus that is released into local waterways, in this case the Beaver Dam River. The requirements were put in place shortly after Beaver Dam cut the ribbon on a $20-million-dollar treatment facility in 2011 and would not have cost the city nearly as much had the requirement been known during the design phase.

The option that has the most support by city officials carries a price tag in excess of $24-million dollars, which is almost $10-million dollars higher than any other option. However, the $24-million dollar option is the only one that can generate revenue for the city by taking phosphorus from wastewater and converting it to a biomass that can be sold. That revenue, combined with a plan that would allow other communities to use the facility, could generate up to $1-million dollars a year for the city. The Beaver Dam Common Council last month entered into a non-binding letter of intent with Clearas Water Recovery Incorporated to further explore the option for an Advanced Biological Nutrient Recovery system.

The city’s Director of Utilities Rob Minnema says the process uses biological algae in a controlled environment that, under the right conditions, essentially removes phosphorus and nitrogen. The discharge from the facility would be about as close to drinking water that you would get coming out of a treatment plant. Minnema says no chemicals are needed, nothing would have to be landfilled and the only waste that would be produced would generate revenue.

While Clearas is the most expensive option Minnema says it also appears to be the most cost-effective as the plastic-like pellet that is produced has industrial uses that could generate revenue. He says there is a real big push right now for large companies to use bioplastics and there would be a market for the product created in Beaver Dam. Current buyers are getting their chemical plastic byproducts from overseas and Minnema says there is a huge demand for United States product. Among other companies, Clearas would sell Beaver Dam bioplastics to the second largest shoe manufacturer in the world for use in insoles.

Clearas is also the only option that would address the possibility of another possible mandate: nitrogen. At this point, Minnema says the Clearas process is on the only option that addresses nitrogen removal which is likely the next nutrient limit that could be implemented by the DNR. The debt service on the Clearas option would be approximately $1.3-million dollars per year. Minnema says after the potential revenue is factored in along with any possible grants, the impact on rate payers should be minimal. Clearas is offering a five-year renewable guarantee for 20 years and if the revenue generated increases, Beaver Dam would see more money. The city is in the process of assembling a facility plan and, once approved by the DNR, the common council will have to decide which option is most viable. We will explore the other options during tomorrow’s newscast.